10.02.2013 - 14.02.2013 35 °C
Maybe you've heard or read the encouragement to do something really frightening everyday. The image of giddy shrieking followed by cathartic relief is a powerful one. Unfortunately for me it falls into the same category as the encouragement to do ab-work everyday - a great idea but one I don't quite manage. Lots of people think quitting my job, selling our house and heading off around the world with a carry-on bag is fightening, but truly for me it was not at all. Learning to drive in Chicago at age 37, with a job offer hanging on the results of the driving test was terrifying, and although my marriage ceremony itself was relaxed, dancing the Argentine Tango with Jim as our first dance in front of everyone was also one of the scarier moments of my adult life. Count them though - two frightening things in six years - hardly the once a day standard that seems so cool. And yet, here in SouthWestern Australia I've managed the leap of faith in myself to accomplish two frightening things in three days.
Before breakfast on Sunday Jim and I got up with the birds. Not the delicately melodic tweeties we're used to in Illinois. These birds sound like cats hanging upside-down from trees by their tails, or like whining toddlers. Goaded out of bed by this ruckus, we made the short drive to Porungorup National Park for the Castlerock Granite Skywalk. On a rising path of about two kilometers, we came across two groups of wallabies that allowed us quite close before hopping just out of range and continuing their breakfast. The path got rockier as we climbed, and we came to a gorgeous lookout scattered with enormous menolithic formations generated as bubbles millions of years ago in molton rock. These are some of the oldest rocks on the planet. The surrounding stone had been worn away over time until these "bubbles" balanced precariously on and around each other like a group of asana students lifted on their toes in chair pose.
We paused for some photos and became aware of the gusting wind as we got higher. At 7am, it was already 35 degrees Celcius, but the wind sent a chill through our sweat-filmed torsos. Around a bend in the path, things got even more challenging. The climb was steeper and I had to tighten the straps of my Barmah hat tight bitingly under my chin. Our way now was over giant granite boulders, the remnants of shattered "bubbles" that had become unbalanced and cracked apart against each other. Jim went ahead and occasionally gave some advice on footing. It's pretty frequent that I'm grateful to have married a tactical genius, and this was just another instance.
At a particularly rough spot I thought to myself "Oh, just let Jim go ahead. He can get some photos and I'll just wait here." Two weeks ago in Fiji we'd had the opportunity to climb out to the end of the bowsprite of a schooner we were swimming around, and dive into the beautiful water. Jim of course engaged eagerly, but I stayed in the water, congratulating him both times he dove in. But this morning I did not give up so easily. "At least wait until you fall! You haven't so much as stumbled yet," I told myself. As the way became more difficult, the park rangers had installed a few handles in strategic spots, but friends, I'm telling you their model hikers were taller than six feet, and leggy, because both of us had to overreach and lunge to move along.
Meeting up together at the next pausing point, I again nearly lost my nerve. Rising up six or seven meters high in front of us was a ladder. I know the idea of a ladder probably sounds easy, but I was just not keen on that ascent. The wind here was intense, and would have knocked me down without a firm hold. There was no one else around, and unlike in the U.S. where we would have signed waivers and been suited up, strapped in and helmetted, in Australia they continue to allow people unsupervised experiences, and here I was wrestling with mine. "I could just stay here at the bottom, " I rationalized. "It's pretty amazing RIGHT HERE!" It's true it was, but yet I went on.
One of the most influential yoga teachers in my training has been Toni Gilroy. With Toni, I very gradually worked on the asana ardhachandrasana - half moon pose. Balancing sideways on one foot with the other lifted in line with the torso, one hand lifted to the sky and the other either grounded forward of the foundation foot or maybe hovering just off the ground, this was a monster of a pose for me, and one that still eludes me some days. Toni always taught it with this fantastic preparation cue: start with three points of contact: two feet in a shallow warrior-two stance, and the bottom hand placed so it will be directly under the shoulders when you lift that back leg up and roll the hips open.
"Three points of contact" was my cue as I climbed that ladder. One hand at a time released and grabbed a higher rung and then clenching tightly with both hands, I lifted one foot at a time and slowly, breathing steadily, up I went. "Three points of contact" went through my head with at least every fourth breath. I alternated that sage cue with "OMG the wind is gonna knock me off this rock!" , "look straight ahead not down," and "just keep going." When I reached the platform above, I found to my relief that the walkway that led out to a further lookout point was lined waist high with plexiglass. I crounched down out of the wind and waited for Jim to join me and my heartbeat to slow down. This was the giddy part.
We stood together, walked out to the furthest point, and were rewarded with three hundred and sixty degrees of the whole world spread below us as far as we could imagine. Nothing even came close to being as high as us. The canopy of trees below us was a mottled carpet ( something from the early eighties maybe) and the view was magnificent. One more granite bubble was tantalizingly close to the walkway and I fantasized about sitting on top of it. The indigenous people who lived here before Europeans believed that a spiritual being occupied this site, and I wondered what sort of being it was. One very brave I think, to sit up in the wind on top of bubbled rocks that sometimes lose their balance.
Realizing that photos could never convey the view we had, nor the sense of accomplishment in attaining it, we lingered some time more and agree we'd earned our brekkie. The first part of the return was nearly as challenging as the way in, but when our feet again hit simple soil and the angle of descent softened, we moved fast and easy, sure-footed and confident. Back at the parking lot we marveled at how little time had passed. "Well, I've done my scary thing for today," I thought. "Heck, I might have done my scary thing for all of Australia!"
Two days later I was looking up at another ladder. This one wrapped around Gloucester Tree, one of the highest trees in Australia and one of the few available for climbing. The treehouse landing at the top is 72 meters off the ground. "Ok, three points of contact," I muttered as I faked some bravado and started climbing first. Up I went, pausing a few times to catch my breath and enjoy the view. About half-way up, I really did relax. Again it was early morning and the intense sun was sifting sideways through the trees and heavy underbrush. It was peaceful and sweet and as I re-initiated the climb without thinking, that hand that will sometimes hover in ardhachandrasana lifted up with the same foot and I climbed for awhile with only TWO points of contact. Rhythmic and efficient, I went up and up, round and round that enormous trunk, above the crowns of other trees and looked down at last on the entire karri forest.
The next day, walking out on Busselton Jetty, the longest wooden jetty in the southern hemisphere, I copied down this poem posted by Lucy Dougan because it spoke so pefectly to my experience with these challenges.
This pact between Solid land and shifting water
Sings a simple pledge
That we can venture out
Into a more capricious element
Without gills or fins. . . .
Something calls our names
As surely as the moon bids tides
And we answer
One foot in front of the other
Shape-shifting into an inter-element
Where all is still and still all moves.
She wrote about the jetty, but her words spoke to me about those ladders. They were my pact between feeling solid and venturing out into capricious experiences. Answering the call out of our comfort zone is scary, but answering the call with frequency lets our skills build upon each other. The reward for our exertions and leaps of faith may be a breakthrough in vision, as I enjoyed above the forest - a prize of changed perspective, playful communion with the world.